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The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a "Judicial Experiment"

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  • Hashem Dezhbakhsh
  • Joanna M. Shepherd

Abstract

We use panel data for 50 states during the 1960--2000 period to examine the deterrent effect of capital punishment, using the moratorium as a "judicial experiment." We compare murder rates immediately before and after changes in states' death penalty laws, drawing on cross-state variations in the timing and duration of the moratorium. The regression analysis supplementing the before-and-after comparisons disentangles the effect of lifting the moratorium on murder from the effect of actual executions on murder. Results suggest that capital punishment has a deterrent effect, and that executions have a distinct effect which compounds the deterrent effect of merely (re)instating the death penalty. The finding is robust across 96 regression models. (JEL C1, K1) Copyright 2006, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Western Economic Association International in its journal Economic Inquiry.

Volume (Year): 44 (2006)
Issue (Month): 3 (July)
Pages: 512-535

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Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:44:y:2006:i:3:p:512-535

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  1. Hoenack, Stephen A & Weiler, William C, 1980. "A Structural Model of Murder Behavior and the Criminal Justice System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(3), pages 327-41, June.
  2. H. Naci Mocan & R. Kaj Gittings, 2001. "Pardons, Executions and Homicide," NBER Working Papers 8639, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Edward E. Leamer, 1982. "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," UCLA Economics Working Papers 239, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Donohue, John J. & Levitt, Steven D., 2000. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt00p599hk, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  5. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1975. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 397-417, June.
  6. McManus, Walter S, 1985. "Estimates of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: The Importance of the Researcher's Prior Beliefs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(2), pages 417-25, April.
  7. Chressanthis, George A., 1989. "Capital punishment and the deterrent effect revisited: Recent time-series econometric evidence," Journal of Behavioral Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 81-97.
  8. Passell, Peter & Taylor, John B, 1977. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Another View," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 445-51, June.
  9. Brumm, Harold J. & Cloninger, Dale O., 1996. "Perceived risk of punishment and the commission of homicides: A covariance structure analysis," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 1-11, October.
  10. Christopher J. Ruhm, 2000. "Are Recessions Good For Your Health?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(2), pages 617-650, May.
  11. Paul R. Zimmerman, 2004. "State executions, deterrence, and the incidence of murder," Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 0, pages 163-193, May.
  12. Lott, John R, Jr & Mustard, David B, 1997. "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(1), pages 1-68, January.
  13. McAleer, Michael & Veall, Michael R, 1989. "How Fragile Are Fragile Inferences? A Re-evaluation of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(1), pages 99-106, February.
  14. Cameron, Samuel, 1994. "A review of the econometric evidence on the effects of capital punishment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 197-214.
  15. Dale Cloninger & Roberto Marchesini, 2001. "Execution and deterrence: a quasi-controlled group experiment," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(5), pages 569-576.
  16. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1977. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Some Further Thoughts and Additional Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(4), pages 741-88, August.
  17. Yunker, James A., 1976. "Is the death penalty a deterrent to homicide? Some time series evidence," Journal of Behavioral Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 45-81.
  18. Shepherd, Joanna M, 2002. "Police, Prosecutors, Criminals, and Determinate Sentencing: The Truth about Truth-in-Sentencing Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 509-34, October.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2011. "Econometric Estimates of Deterrence of the Death Penalty: Facts or Ideology?," CESifo Working Paper Series 3443, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Gerritzen, Berit & Kirchgässner, Gebhard, 2013. "Facts or Ideology: What Determines the Results of Econometric Estimates of the Deterrence Effect of Death Penalty? A Meta-Analysis," Economics Working Paper Series 1303, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
  3. Angela K. Dills & Jeffrey A. Miron & Garrett Summers, 2010. "What Do Economists Know about Crime?," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America, pages 269-302 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Paul Rubin, 2011. "From the 'econometrics of capital punishment' to the 'capital punishment' of econometrics: on the use and abuse of sensitivity analysis," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 43(25), pages 3655-3670.
  5. Donohue, John J & Wolfers, Justin, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," CEPR Discussion Papers 5493, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Ethan Cohen-Cole & Steven Durlauf & Jeffrey Fagan & Daniel Nagin, 2007. "Model uncertainty and the deterrent effect of capital punishment," Risk and Policy Analysis Unit Working Paper QAU07-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  7. Michael Frakes & Matthew Harding, 2009. "The Deterrent Effect of Expansions in Death Penalty Eligibility Criteria," Discussion Papers 08-033, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  8. Ross, Amanda, 2012. "Crime, police, and truth-in-sentencing: The impact of state sentencing policy on local communities," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 144-152.
  9. Charles F. Manski & John V. Pepper, 2011. "Deterrence and the Death Penalty: Partial Identification Analysis Using Repeated Cross Sections," NBER Working Papers 17455, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Yang, Bijou & Lester, David, 2008. "The deterrent effect of executions: A meta-analysis thirty years after Ehrlich," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 453-460, September.

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